YEREVAN -- Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian says Azerbaijan's recent increases in military spending have not given it an advantage in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Meeting with Yerevan State University students who will soon be drafted into the Armenian army, Ohanian said on November 17 that Armenia and the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh are successfully "neutralizing" the Azerbaijani military's numerical superiority in weapons and personnel.
"We are maintaining the balance of forces vis-a-vis the Azerbaijani armed forces, not with quantitative data but by raising the qualitative standards of our armed forces," Ohanian said. "We are enhancing the combat readiness and fighting spirit of our armed forces."
He added that the Armenian side is also receiving "modern weaponry," though he did not elaborate.
The remarks came just days after President Serzh Sarkisian warned that Azerbaijan will be dealt a "devastating and final" blow if it attempts to resolve the Karabakh conflict by force. Sarkisian issued the warning as he and Ohanian watched what officials called the biggest-ever exercises held by the Karabakh Armenian army.
Armenian Public Television reported on November 15 that the two-week maneuvers involved thousands of soldiers, hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles, as well as heavy artillery. It said the tanks and artillery systems fired more than 2,000 rounds, as troops simulated an counteroffensive against Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian said the exercises were held in response to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's frequent threats to reconquer Karabakh and Azerbaijani districts surrounding it.
Armenian forces has had control of those areas since the end of a 1991-94 war with Azerbaijan.
Aliyev's government recently announced plans for another sharp rise in the Azerbaijani defense budget. It is projected to reach $3.1 billion next year, a sum exceeding Armenia's entire state budget. The Armenian government plans to spend only about $400 million on defense in 2011.
The spending gap is somewhat offset by Armenia's military alliance with Russia, which enables it to acquire Russian-made weapons at low prices or free of charge. A Russian-Armenian defense agreement signed in August commits Moscow to supplying Yerevan with "modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware."
"The existing situation allows us to say that the positions of the Republic of Armenia and the [self-declared] Nagorno-Karabakh Republic have not weakened," Ohanian told the students. "On the contrary, today we have a situation where our positions have strengthened on both the diplomatic and military fronts."
Ohanian also downplayed a recent spate of noncombat deaths and other violent incidents in the Armenian army, which sparked a public uproar and led to the sackings and arrests of several dozen servicmen.
He said the issue is worrisome but that "analyses conducted in the army...lead to the conclusion that, on the whole, abuses and other extraordinary incidents in the armed forces are decreasing rather than increasing."
Another student wondered which branch of the military is most corrupt. "There is no area [within the military] where corruption is particularly rampant," Ohanian said. "It all depends on the moral integrity of the commanders of a particular field. We are making appropriate efforts in that direction."